Who are you? Do you define yourself or does the world define you? Pinning down our identity is a tricky business, for our sense of self is slippery, always shifting depending on places, people, events, and perhaps even the weather. We have national identities, political identities, cultural identities, and our private selves. In this seminar, we will examine the line between collective identity and our interior world, and we will develop a framework for the ways in which we define ourselves and the ways in which we are defined. This will require moving across several disciplines of study: social phenomena, cultural theory, epistemology, media studies, and classical philosophy, as well as critically examining a range of literature, film, images, and our digital world of virtual selves. In so doing, perhaps we will acquire new tools that will allow us to better relate to ourselves and the world.


  1. Society. How we define the world & the world defines us.
    • Essays & theory: Audre Lorde, K. Anthony Appiah, William James, Cornel West, bell hooks, Richard Sennett
    • Film: Ingmar Bergman’s Persona
    • Literature: Claudia Rankine, Jamaica Kincaid, Junot Díaz
    • Novel: Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
  2. Self. Making sense of the mind through ethics, metaphysics, and the occasional existential crisis.
    • Film: Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries
    • Essays & theory: Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, Shunryu Suzuki, Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh
    • Literature: Albert Camus, Jorge Luis Borges, Teju Cole
    • Film: Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal
  3. Media. The psychic impact of non-stop entertainment, breaking news, our image world, and 
our virtual selves in the digital age.
    • Essays & theory: Daniel Boorstin, James Baldwin, Richard Hofstadter, Ta Nehisi Coates, and contemporary critiques of social media and digital culture
    • Literature: Don DeLillo, Joan Didion, Colson Whitehead
    • Film: Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd and Black Mirror, ‘Be Right Back’
  4. Action & Adventure. Transforming theory into action, defining our purpose, and saving the world.
    • Essays & theory: Rakesh M Blatt, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gandhi
    • Literature: Donald Barthelme, Edwidge Danticat, Eudora Welty
    • Film: Memento